Posts filed under 'Martyrs'

1916: Phan Xich Long, mystic insurgent

Add comment February 22nd, 2019 Headsman

Vietnamese mystic Phan Xich Long was executed on this date in 1916 by the French, after attempting to expel their occupation and situate himself as Emperor of Vietnam.

In his youth a peripatetic fortune-teller and geomancer, Phan Phát Sanh (as he was then known) formed a secret society by 1911 centered around enforcing his rights as the purported long-lost descendant of Ham Nghi — an 1880s emperor whose short reign ended in French captivity.

By 1912 he was barnstorming the Mekong Delta in saffron robes, buttressing his pretense to the throne with all the aspirations and disappointments of an occupied people. It was now that he took the name by which history recalls him, meaning “Red Dragon”, orchestrated a coronation ceremony, and set himself at the head of a movement equal parts messianic and patriotic, gradually cementing the credibility of his royal bona fides through various rumors and forgeries. The would-be emperor and his adherents made no bones at all about their rebellious intent; Long wielded a ceremonial sword inscribed with the words “First strike the debauched king, next the traitorous officials”.

Debauched kings and traitorous officials had other plans as they usually do, and the French managed to arrest the Red Dragon on the eve of his planned rising on March 1913. It went off anyway; few followers yet realized that their emperor was in manacles, though they soon realized that the invisibility potions that the mystic had prepared for them were nothing of the sort. The rebellion was crushed within days.

Parked in Saigon Central Prison serving a sentence of life at hard labor, Long perceived his moment to strike again when a national mood deteriorating under the privations of World War I birthed another royalist revolt in early 1916. Long evidently maintained secret contacts with these rebels, and his liberation was the objective of their attack upon his prison — and whose failure resulted in Long’s speedy execution under the auspices of a military court that also condemned 57 other insurgents.*

They hadn’t seen the last of him: years later another rabble-rouser would claim to be Phan Xich Long’s reincarnation. Today, there’s a street named for Phan Xich Long in Saigon.

* These appear to me to have been executed by musketry (military court, mind) rather than guillotine but few sources I’ve seen are prepared to take an explicit stand on this detail.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Pretenders to the Throne,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Shot,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1595: Robert Southwell

Add comment February 21st, 2019 Headsman

February 2O, 1594-5, [Father Robert] Southwell, a Jesuit, that long time had lain prisoner in the Tower of London, was arraigned at the King’s-bench bar. He was condemned, and on the next morning drawn from Newgate to Tyburn, and there hanged, bowelled and quartered.

-Chronicle of John Stow

Youngest child in a gentry household of Catholic-leaning Norfolk, Robert Southwell was for holy orders and martyr’s laurels from the jump; in 1576 at the tender age of 15, he made for Douai and its English seminary, noted for training missionary priests who would return secretly to Elizabethan England to court torture and death for the Word. Within a decade he was a prefect at the English College in Rome and a fully armed and operational member of the Society of Jesus.

In 1586, Southwell sailed for his homeland with fellow Jesuit Henry Garnet, who would one day go to the gallows for Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder Plot.

For Southwell, the pen was mightier than such detonations.

“St. Peter’s Complaint” (Excerpt)
by Robert Southwell

Ah! life, sweet drop, drown’d in a sea of sours,
A flying good, posting to doubtful end;
Still losing months and years to gain new hours,
Fain times to have and spare, yet forced to spend;
Thy growth, decrease; a moment all thou hast.
That gone ere known; the rest, to come, or past.

Ah! life, the maze of countless straying ways,
Open to erring steps and strew’d with baits.
To bind weak senses into endless strays,
Aloof from Virtue’s rough, unbeaten straits
A flower, a play, a blast, a shade, a dream,
A living death, a never-turning stream.

Quietly nestled in as the house confessor to Catholic noblewoman Anne Howard, Southwell scratched out page after page to fortify the hearts of the beleaguered Old Faith — standard stuff like martyrology testimony concerning his brother priests, overt manifestos like An humble supplication to Her Maiestie, and literary bestsellers admired by Protestant countrymen like Mary Magdalene’s Funeral Tears and his verse collection St. Peter’s Complaint, and Other Poems.*

This last appeared posthumously. After three years’ imprisonment — “I am decayed in memory with long and close imprisonment, and I have been tortured ten times,” the imminent martyr said of his handling by notorious Catholic-hunter Richard Topcliffe; “I had rather have endured ten executions” — Southwell was brought to the bar on February 20, 1595, to answer as a traitor and put to the traitor’s death the very next day.

Though less widely familiar now, his literary output was well-known and highly regarded long after he died, and perhaps influenced many other writers including Shakespeare. The Catholic Church elevated Southwell to sainthood in 1970.

* A couple of Southwell’s epistles are preserved in the 1741 volume Memoirs of Missionary Priests.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Treason

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1883: Vasudev Balwant Phadke dies on hunger strike

Add comment February 17th, 2019 Headsman

Vasudev Balwant Phadke died on hunger strike against his British captivity on this date in 1883.

The “father of armed rebellion” in India, Phadke radicalized while working as a clerk in Pune and arose as a prominent revolutionary in 1875 whipping up protests against the British for deposing the Maharaja of Baroda State and for the grinding agricultural crisis.

He took his sharp anti-colonial oratory on a then-novel barnstorming tour, and eventually formed the Ramosi Peasant Force — an armed peasant insurgency consisting of a few hundred souls.

Its successes were more of the local and symbolic variety — most notably, he got control of the city of Pune for a few days — but they sufficed to draw a price on Phadke’s head which eventually found a seller. (Phadke had made contemptuous reply by issuing his own bounty on the Governor of Bombay, a purse that was not claimed.) Even after capture, he briefly escaped by tearing his cell door off his hinges.

Needing to defuse his power as a potential martyr, the British gave him a term of years rather than a death sentence, and they moved him to Aden, Yemen, to serve it. Phadke overruled the sentence and clinched his martyr’s crown by refusing food until he succumbed on February 17, 1883.

There’s an eponymous 2007 biopic celebrating this Indian national hero, clips of which can be found in the usual places.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,England,Guerrillas,History,India,Martyrs,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Starved,Yemen

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1919: Heinrich Bosse

Add comment February 16th, 2019 Headsman

German pastor Heinrich Bosse died for the evangelium at Bolshevik hands 100 years ago today.

Bosse followed his grandfather and father into the clergy and took up a posting to Riga in the last years of the 19th century. Today Riga is the capital of Latvia; at the time, it was a port in the Russian empire — but the former Hanseatic city was heavily German-populated, as it had been for centuries.

This was not an ideal vocation when Latvia’s declaration of independence at the end of World War I triggered Bolshevik invasion. By March 1919, Red forces controlled most of the country. Now, over the months to come the civil war would expel the Communists and secure independence for Latvia, at least for the interwar period.

But none of that big-picture stuff would help Reverend Bosse.

Latvian Bolsheviks had a grudge against Bosse for (so they believed) informing on one of their number who’d been executed by German forces occupying the city during the late World War. A revolutionary tribunal accordingly condemned him to death after a bout of torture; he was taken out of his cell on February 16, 1919, and shot in an unknown location.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Latvia,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Russia,Shot,Torture,USSR,Wartime Executions

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1831: Vicente Guerrero, former President of Mexico

2 comments February 14th, 2019 Headsman

Vicente Guerrero, late the president of Mexico, was executed on this date in 1831.

He was once a rebel soldier under Jose Maria Morelos in the Mexican War of Independence against Spain.

The Afro-Mestizo Guerrero (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) cinched that conflict by successfully appealing to his royalist opposite number, Agustin de Iturbide, to switch sides. Their combined forces rode into Mexico City together in September 1821 but the conservative Iturbide and the liberal Guerrero soon parted ways.

Iturbide was elevated to emperor of Mexico; Guerrero by 1823 had returned to the field to rebel against the strongman. When Iturbide was deposed (and eventually executed), Guerrero became one of the ruling triumvirs and a national political figure. He contested the 19281828 presidential election which he lost at the ballot box but won in the ensuing street battles — an affair that featured the intervention on Guerrero’s side of Santa Anna.

He was quick about abolishing slavery and he had to be, for this mixed-race populist was deposed by his conservative vice president within months — beginning another round of civil conflict that was dishonorably resolved when an Italian sea captain arranged with the Mexico City government to lure him aboard and arrest him. For this gambit Judas received 50,000 pesos and Guerrero a summary court-martial and a firing squad at Cuilapam.

The cruel treatment of Guerrero requires an explanation. Bravo had been defeated in 1827 but was merely exiled and there were other similar cases. It is reasonable to ask, therefore, why in the case of Guerrero the government resorted to the ultimate penalty. The clue is provided by Zavala who, writing several years later, noted that Guerrero was of mixed blood and that the opposition to his presidency came from the great landowners, generals, clerics and Spaniards resident in Mexico. These people could not forget the war of independence with its threat of social and racial subversion. Despite his revolutionary past, the wealthy creole Bravo belonged to this “gentleman’s club’, as did the cultured creole, Zavala, even with his radicalism. Hence Guerrero’s execution was perhaps a warning to men considered as socially and ethnically inferior not to dare to dream of becoming president. (Source)

The southern Mexico state of Guerrero is named for him; its slogan, mi patria es primero (my fatherland is first) is the legendary reply that the young Vicente Guerrero made to his Spain-supporting father when asked to foreswear the independence movement.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Martyrs,Mexico,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1945: Walraven van Hall, banker to the Resistance

Add comment February 12th, 2019 Headsman

Wally van Hall, the Dutch banker, fraudster, and national hero, was executed by the Nazi occupation on this date in 1945.

Walraven — to use his proper given name — was born into a well-heeled family, the brother of eventual Amsterdam mayor Gijs van Hall.

The man’s expertise in the occult crafts of banking gained an unexpected heroic cast during World War II when Wally became the “banker to the Resistance,” quietly sluicing the funds needed to support anti-occupation movements.

Notably, he plundered the present-day equivalent of a half-billion Euro from the Dutch National Bank by swapping fraudulent bad bonds for good ones.

This profession was no less dangerous for being so esoteric. He was betrayed by an informer who was himself executed in revenge by the Resistance; van Hall has posthumously received his country’s Cross of Resistance as well as Israel’s recognition as Righteous Among the Nations for his aid to Dutch Jews. He’s the subject of the 2018 film The Resistance Banker.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Netherlands,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Theft,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1685: James Algie and John Park, Paisley Covenanters

Add comment February 3rd, 2019 Headsman

From The Covenanter, vol. 5. The footnote appears in the original.


Paisley — Its Antiquities, Manufactories, Martyrs, Theological Seminary, Social and Religious Condition.

Paisley, which I visited on the 28th of September — having left Kilmarnock the day before — was once a flourishing place, and notwithstanding its adversities, still holds an important place among the manufacturing towns of Britain. It occupies the site of an old Roman camp — a ridge some two or three hundred feet high, some half-mile in length, and half as much in breadth, lying nearly north and south, steep on its western side and northern end, less so on the east, where, and on the south, with the plains at their foot, lies the body of the town, and tapering off towards the south until it is lost in the beautiful valley, extending far to the south-west: the western side still retaining its precipitate outline. From the summit of the hill — a vacant green, once the actual site of the Roman encampment — the vision ranges over a wide and varied scene, in every direction, except on the east, where it is soon arrested by spurs shot out by the great central plateau. On the west and south lie the rich plains of Renfrew and Ayr; in the far distance are seen the bare and lofty peaks of the high mountain summits of Arran, often capped with clouds: on the north and north-east, the mountains of Bute and Argyle, with the Gowrie hills. In all, eleven counties are represented in this panorama, which the venerable Professor, whose dwelling is but a few steps distant, takes great delight in exhibiting to the inquiring stranger.


Panorama of Paisley, as seen from Barshaw Park. (cc) image from the city’s community website.

Paisley is not without its objects of interest. I have already mentioned, in a previous letter, the Wallace oak and mansion, two miles distant on the south, in the quiet vale of Ellerslie. There is no doubt of their identity. The tree is, however, in the last stages of decay. The dwelling still remains — a substantial stone edifice, some forty feet in length, two stories high, with projecting wings of equal length: evidently built in times when every man’s house was literally his castle. Part of it is still inhabited. In the town itself, near the banks of the Cart, is an ancient abbey, erected, probably, in the 14th century, but most of it still in excellent preservation — indeed, a portion of it, the southern extremity of the old, double church, is still used as a place of worship; the northern portion being the only part of the abbey building that has gone entirely into ruins, enough only remaining to show its original extent and form. The other portions of the abbey, consist of ranges of high buildings, enclosing a square, these in the olden time having been occupied as the residence of the monks and their retainers — on some occasions, furnishing a temporary place of sojourn to the Kings of Scotland. In the Sounding Aisle, so called from its prolonged and rolling echoes, is a tomb, said to be of Margory Bruce, the ancestor of the fated house of Stuart. And, in the church itself, as in many of the ancient chapels and all the cathedrals, are any number of tombs and tablets, and slabs, marking the last resting-place of the great, in their day. What a mockery do most of the inscriptions appear. 1. A name — some title — and, then, “here they lie!” The oldest of these that I noticed was 1433.


Paisley Abbey. (cc) image from @ArchHist.

Leaving the abbey, we passed over to the factories. Of these, we visited but one — Kerr’s — where sewing cotton is spun and prepared for the market. It is a large establishment, employing, in all, nearly three hundred hands, two hundred and fifty of whom are females, who, when working by the day, earned about 6s. and 8d. sterling ($1,64) per week; working by the piece about 8s. and 6d. or 9d. sterling ($2,16) per week: out of this, of course, meeting all their expenses. The work is not, now, oppressive, the law having limited the time employed in factory work to, I think, twelve hours. Those that we saw appeared to be generally healthy. They were dressed very much alike, in dark dresses, sufficiently neat and comfortable, and manifested no want of cheerfulness. I made inquiry, however, and found that spitting of blood was not at all uncommon, and do not doubt that in many instances close confinement, in a heated atmosphere — many of them, moreover, sitting at their work — is followed by the very worst consequences as to health.*

Paisley had its martyrs. James Algie and John Park, I quote from Dr. Symington,

who were executed at the market cross, Feb. 3d, 1685; and were ignominiously buried in the Gallow-green. On the enlargement of the town some fifty years ago, their remains were exhumed, and transferred, most respectfully, to a new burying ground in West Broomlands, which had recently been laid off in the view of erecting a new parish and a parish church to accommodate the increasing population. The scheme of a new erection was not carried into effect, and, after a few interments, the ground was abandoned as a place of burial, went into neglect, and became nearly obscured by surrounding buildings. The inscription on the slab at the graves had become, by time and weather, nearly illegible. A few friends, sympathizing with similar movements in other parts of the country, suggested the erection of a simple and durable monument; and the suggestion was promptly and liberally responded to, and funds realized for carrying it into effect. A chaste and elegant obelisk is now erected on the spot where the ashes of the Martyrs repose. On the east side of the pedestal is engraved the original epitaph:

Here lie the corpses of James Algie and John Park, who suffered at the cross of Paisley, for refusing the oath of Abjuration.

February 3d, 1685.

Stay, passenger, as thou go’st by,
And take a look where these do lie,
Who for the love they bare to truth,
Were deprived of their life and youth;
Tho’ laws made then caus’d many die,
Judges and ‘sizers were not free,
He that to them did these delate,
The greater count he hath to make,
Yet no excuse to them can be;
At Ten condemned, at Two to die,
So cruel did their rage become,
To stop their mouth caus’d beat the drum;
This may a standing witness be
‘Twixt Presbyt’ry and Prelacy.

On the north side of the pedestal is an inscription stating the time and circumstances of the removal of the remains from the Gallowgreen.

The stone containing the Epitaph, transcribed on this monument, was erected over the grave in the Gallow-green, the place of common execution; and on occasion of the grounds being built upon, it was removed near to this spot along with the remains of the Martyrs, by order of the Magistrates,

JOHN STORIE, JOHN PATISON, and JOHN COCHRANE.
MDCCLXXIX

On the south side is the following inscription:

ERECTED

By the contributions of Christians of different denominations in and about Paisley, to renew and perpetuate a memorial of the respect and gratitude with which posterity still cherish the memory of the Martyrs of Scotland.

MDCCCXXXV

And on the west side are inscribed the following truthful and beautiful lines from Cowper:

Their blood is shed
In confirmation of the noblest claim,
Our claim to feed upon immortal truth,
To walk with God, to be divinely free,
To soar and to anticipate the skies.
Yet few remember them. They lived unknown,
Till persecution dragged them into fame,
And chas’d them up to heaven.

The sequel is remarkable. We again use the Dr.’s language:

During the recent movements in the extension of church accommodation an elegant structure was erected, in the immediate vicinity of the tomb, having a burying-ground attached to it, and appropriately designated Martyr’s Church. The graves of the two martyrs, though adjacent, were not within the boundaries of the church-yard, and the obelisk stood outside of the wall. The plan, however, of enclosing extensive grounds in the neighbourhood for a new and spacious cemetery was formed, and the ground where the obelisk stood came in course to be included, and the remains, formerly buried in ignominy, now lie in one of the finest burying-places in the country; the erection now marking the spot forming one of its most interesting objects.

* Paisley is not now in a flourishing state. There has been a gradual decline, I was told, for twenty-five years past.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland

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1886: The leadership of the Proletariat Party

Add comment January 28th, 2019 Headsman

A quartet of revolutionary socialists were executed by the tsarist authorities at Warsaw Citadel on this date in 1886.

Poland’s first socialist party of any consequence, the Proletariat was founded in 1882 by Ludwik Warynski.

“Small in number and very young in age,” were these founding socialists, “sons and daughters of a shattered class and a defeated nation.” But Moscow had long feared the diffusion of revolutionary ideologies in Poland, for as an 1873 Russian security brief observed, “of all the lands belonging to his Imperial Majesty the Kingdom of Poland more than any other constitutes a favorable ground for the Internationale.” (Both quotes from The Origins of Polish Socialism: The History and Ideas of the First Polish Socialist Party 1878-1886.)

The Proletariat Party went some way to vindicating the fears of the secret police by gaining several hundred members in its first years and conducting some successful protest campaigns in Warsaw. Naturally this invited state violence on the heads of the leadership; Warynski was in irons by the end of 1883, and would die in prison six years later.

This in turn brought new and more implacable men to the fore of the movement, like one of our day’s principals Stanislaw Kunicki (English Wikipedia entry | Polish) — who better inclined to ally the Proletariat Party with the anti-autocrat terrorist organization Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will). Eventually in the course of the 1880s crackdown

several hundred members of Proletariat were arrested, of whom twenty-nine from the industrial areas of Poland were selected as being principally responsible for the direction of the party. The trial of 23 November to 20 December 1885 produced its first socialist martyrs. In the end the Russian Piotr Bardovsky, Stanislaw Kunicki, the shoemaker Michal Ossowski and the weaver Jan Petrusinski were hanged on 28 January 1886.


A plaque at Warsaw Citadel commemorates the Proletariat martyrs ((cc) image by Mateusz Opasinski.

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1934: Surya Sen

Add comment January 12th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1934 the great Bengal revolutionary Surya Sen was hanged by the British.

A schoolteacher affectionately known as “Master Da”, Sen put his name in the annals by leading the April 18, 1930 raid on the Chittagong police armory,* which yielded benefits more symbolic than practical: it was hoped that the raid would also surprise and massacre the local British officer corps and trigger a whole rising, but the prospective targets were absent, and then became forewarned, on account of the raid taking place on Good Friday.

Afterwards, the rebels melted away and the wanted Sen stayed underground for years. It’s no wonder he was hard to catch: the guy who finally betrayed him was beheaded in revenge. “Death is knocking at my door,” ran the man’s letter before he went to the Chittagong Central Jail along with another revolutionary named Tarakeswar Dastidar.

My mind is flying away towards eternity … At such a pleasant, at such a grave, at such a solemn moment, what shall I leave behind you? Only one thing, that is my dream, a golden dream-the dream of Free India … Never forget the 18th of April,1930, the day of the eastern Rebellion in Chittagong … Write in red letters in the core of your hearts the names of the patriots who have sacrificed their lives at the altar of India’s freedom.

* Armories, actually: two separate facilities, one for the police and one for the auxliaries, plus the European Club where they intended to seize hostages.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bangladesh,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Terrorists

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1453: Stefano Porcari

Add comment January 9th, 2019 Edward Gibbon

(Thanks to the estimable historian Edward Gibbon for this guest post on the humanist Stefano Porcari, who aspired to follow the revolutionary trail of the previous century’s great tribune of the people Cola di Rienzi … and did follow Rienzi’s fate. Compare with the account of Machiavelli in History of Florence, who remarks that “though some may applaud his intentions, he must stand charged with deficiency of understanding; for such undertakings, though possessing some slight appearance of glory, are almost always attended with ruin.” -ed.)

It is an obvious truth, that the times must be suited to extraordinary characters, and that the genius of Cromwell or Retz might now expire in obscurity.

The political enthusiasm of Rienzi had exalted him to a throne; the same enthusiasm, in the next century, conducted his imitator to the gallows.

The birth of Stephen Porcaro was noble, his reputation spotless: his tongue was armed with eloquence, his mind was enlightened with learning; and he aspired, beyond the aim of vulgar ambition, to free his country and immortalize his name.

Spirto gentil, che quelle membra reggi

Gentle spirit, that rules those members
in which a pilgrim lives,
a brave lord, shrewd and wise,
now you have taken up the ivory sceptre
with which you punish Rome and her wrongdoers,
and recall her to her ancient ways,
I speak to you, because I see no other ray
of virtue that is quenched from the world,
nor do I find men ashamed of doing wrong.
I don’t know what Italy expects or hopes for,
she seems not to feel her trouble,
old, lazy, slow,
will she sleep forever, no one to wake her?
I should grasp her by the hair with my hand.

I’ve no hope she’ll ever move her head
in lazy slumber whatever noise men make,
so heavily is she oppressed and by such a sleep:
not without the destiny in your right hand,
that can shake her fiercely and waken her,
now the guide of our Rome.
Set your hand to her venerable locks
and scattered tresses with firmness,
so that this sluggard might escape the mire.
I who weep for her torment day and night,
place the greater part of my hopes in you:
for if the people of Mars
ever come to lift their eyes to true honour,
I think that grace will touch them in your days.

Those ancient walls the world still fears and loves
and trembles at, whenever it recalls
past times and looks around,
and those tombs that enclose the dust
of those who will never lack fame
until the universe itself first dissolves,
and all is involved in one great ruin,
trust in you to heal all their ills.
O famous Scipios, o loyal Brutus,
how pleased you must be, if the rumour has yet
reached you there, of this well-judged appointment!
I think indeed Fabricius
will be delighted to hear the news!
And will say: ‘My Rome will once more be beautiful!’

And if Heaven cares for anything down here,
the souls, that up there are citizens,
and have abandoned their bodies to earth,
pray you to put an end to civil hatred,
that means the people have no real safety:
so the way to their temples that once
were so frequented is blocked, and now
they have almost become thieves’ dens in this strife,
so that their doors are only closed against virtue,
and amongst the altars and the naked statues
they commit every savage act.
Ah what alien deeds!
And no assault begun without a peal of bells
that were hung on high in thanks to God.

Weeping women, the defenceless children
of tender years, and the wearied old
who hate themselves and their burdened life,
and the black friars, the grey and the white,
with a crowd of others troubled and infirm,
cry: ‘O Lord, help us, help us.’
And the poor citizens dismayed
show you their wounds, thousand on thousands,
that Hannibal, no less, would pity them.
And if you gaze at the mansion of God
that is all ablaze today, if you stamped out
a few sparks, the will would become calm,
that shows itself so inflamed,
then your work would be praised to the skies.

Bears, wolves, lions, eagles and serpents
commit atrocities against a great
marble column, and harm themselves by it.
Because this gentle lady grieves at it,
she calls to you that you may root out
those evil plants that will never flower.
For more than a thousand years now
she has lacked those gracious spirits
who had placed her where she was.
Ah, you new people, proud by any measure,
lacking in reverence for such and so great a mother!
You, be husband and father:
all help is looked for from your hands,
for the Holy Father attends to other things.

It rarely happens that injurious fortune
is not opposed to the highest enterprises,
when hostile fate is in tune with ill.
But now clearing the path you take,
she makes me pardon many other offences,
being out of sorts with herself:
so that in all the history of the world
the way was never so open to a mortal man
to achieve, as you can, immortal fame,
by helping a nobler monarchy, if I
am not mistaken, rise to its feet.
What glory will be yours, to hear:
‘Others helped her when she was young and strong:
this one saved her from death in her old age.’

On the Tarpeian Rock, my song, you’ll see
a knight, whom all Italy honours,
thinking of others more than of himself.
Say to him: ‘One who has not seen you close to,
and only loves you from your human fame,
tells you that all of Rome
with eyes wet and bathed with sorrow,
begs mercy of you from all her seven hills.’

-Verse no. 53 from this English translation of Petrarch

The dominion of priests is most odious to a liberal spirit: every scruple was removed by the recent knowledge of the fable and forgery of Constantine’s donation; Petrarch was now the oracle of the Italians; and as often as Porcaro revolved the ode which describes the patriot and hero of Rome, he applied to himself the visions of the prophetic bard.

His first trial of the popular feelings was at the funeral of Eugenius the Fourth: in an elaborate speech he called the Romans to liberty and arms; and they listened with apparent pleasure, till Porcaro was interrupted and answered by a grave advocate, who pleaded for the church and state.

By every law the seditious orator was guilty of treason; but the benevolence of the new pontiff [Pope Nicholas V -ed.], who viewed his character with pity and esteem, attempted by an honorable office to convert the patriot into a friend.

The inflexible Roman returned from Anagni with an increase of reputation and zeal; and, on the first opportunity, the games of the place Navona, he tried to inflame the casual dispute of some boys and mechanics into a general rising of the people.

Yet the humane Nicholas was still averse to accept the forfeit of his life; and the traitor was removed from the scene of temptation to Bologna, with a liberal allowance for his support, and the easy obligation of presenting himself each day before the governor of the city.

But Porcaro had learned from the younger Brutus, that with tyrants no faith or gratitude should be observed: the exile declaimed against the arbitrary sentence; a party and a conspiracy were gradually formed: his nephew, a daring youth, assembled a band of volunteers; and on the appointed evening a feast was prepared at his house for the friends of the republic. Their leader, who had escaped from Bologna, appeared among them in a robe of purple and gold: his voice, his countenance, his gestures, bespoke the man who had devoted his life or death to the glorious cause.

In a studied oration, he expiated on the motives and the means of their enterprise; the name and liberties of Rome; the sloth and pride of their ecclesiastical tyrants; the active or passive consent of their fellow-citizens; three hundred soldiers, and four hundred exiles, long exercised in arms or in wrongs; the license of revenge to edge their swords, and a million of ducats to reward their victory. It would be easy, (he said,) on the next day, the festival of the Epiphany, to seize the pope and his cardinals, before the doors, or at the altar, of St. Peter’s; to lead them in chains under the walls of St. Angelo; to extort by the threat of their instant death a surrender of the castle; to ascend the vacant Capitol; to ring the alarm bell; and to restore in a popular assembly the ancient republic of Rome.

While he triumphed, he was already betrayed.

The senator, with a strong guard, invested the house: the nephew of Porcaro cut his way through the crowd; but the unfortunate Stephen was drawn from a chest, lamenting that his enemies had anticipated by three hours the execution of his design.

After such manifest and repeated guilt, even the mercy of Nicholas was silent. Porcaro, and nine of his accomplices, were hanged without the benefit of the sacraments; and, amidst the fears and invectives of the papal court, the Romans pitied, and almost applauded, these martyrs of their country. But their applause was mute, their pity ineffectual, their liberty forever extinct; and, if they have since risen in a vacancy of the throne or a scarcity of bread, such accidental tumults may be found in the bosom of the most abject servitude.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Italy,Martyrs,Other Voices,Papal States,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries

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